Lot 5
  • 5


100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • David Bomberg
  • The Studio
  • signed and dated 19
  • oil on canvas
  • 77 by 51.5cm.; 31¼ by 20¼in.


Acquired by Ben Uri Gallery and Museum in 1920


The London Group, May 1920 (details untraced); 
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Official Opening at Great Russell Street, May 17th 1925, cat. no.24 (as A Studio);
London, Gillian Jason Gallery, David Bomberg Centenary Exhibition: Works on Paper, 1991, cat. no.80, with tour to Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth; 
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Homeless & Hidden 1, 29th January - 24th February 2009; 
Eastbourne, Towner Gallery, David Bomberg: A Sense of Place, 9th July - 11th September 2016.


'Exhibitions of the Week', Athenaeum, 14th May 1920, p.45;
Walter Schwab and Julia Weiner (eds), Jewish Artists: The Ben Uri Collection – Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Sculpture, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum in association with Lund Humphries, London, 1987, cat. no.48, p.28; 
Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson (eds), Uproar! The First 50 Years of The London Group, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, London, 2015, illustrated p.25.

Catalogue Note

David Bomberg painted The Studio the year after the conclusion of World War I, during a period of immense turmoil. The trauma of the war lingered, and both his brother and his great friend, the artist and poet Isaac Rosenberg, were two of the millions not to return from combat. Upon his return from war, he undertook a commission for the Canadian War Memorial Funds and produced ‘Sappers at Work’: A Canadian Tunnelling Company (1919, Tate, London), dismissed out of hand by the art critic P.G. Konody. The debacle, not rectified by a second version that is held in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa, and the disappointment that followed, plunged Bomberg further into depression and disillusionment.

Bomberg’s experiences of both the horrors of war and the disappointment of the return are made manifest in The Studio. Using a gloomy palette dominated by browns, ochres and greys, Bomberg depicts, from a narrow viewpoint, a corner of the attic studio largely shrouded in shadow. A light source only serves to emphasise the darkness. Predominant verticals are echoed throughout the composition, in the easel, the possible window frame and the floorboards, which tilt to such a degree that the slats are near vertical slashes down the canvas. The studio, presumably Bomberg’s own studio though the title changed from A Studio to The Studio, is seen not as the site of fecund creativity but instead as barren, bleak and lonely. Not only is any human presence banished from the studio but the easel is starkly empty. The immediate post-war years were artistically challenging. The youthful optimism of Bomberg’s Vorticist-influenced, exuberant and ambitious pre-war work was cut dead by his war experiences. No such experimentation with the promise of a machine-age future could be countenanced. Critically and commercially maligned or, worse, ignored, Bomberg felt isolated and neglected and the empty easel cannot but be seen as a symbolic of his powerlessness in the face of such a response. 

The motif of alienation reccurs in Bomberg’s works from this period: Richard Cork comments on ‘the loneliness and drudgery of sweated labour…dourly conveyed’ in the ‘dark and brooding’ Woman and Machine (1920, Private Collection) (Richard Cork, David Bomberg, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1986, p.135). Other works including the ink drawing The Exit (1919, whereabouts unknown, presumed destroyed), and English Woman, (1920, lot 4), possess the same pervasive sense of claustrophia as The Studio. Tightly cropped depictions of enclosed spaces with unnaturally tilted floors at vertiginous angles serve to unsettle and unnerve, rooted in Bomberg’s agitation. 

Exhibited in 1920 as part of Bomberg’s contribution to the London Group’s May exhibition, the critic for the Athenaeum wrote: ‘Any student or amateur of the artists who is still vague as to what the so-called modern movement in painting is all about could not do better than examine Mr Bomberg’s “Studio”, which is an elementary demonstration of the fundamental principles of the movement.’ (‘Exhibitions of the Week', Athenaeum, 14th May 1920). In revealing the artist’s environment, Bomberg simultaneously depicts his own condition: The Studio is a profound reflection of the solitary vocation of the artist and a portent for the neglect that would dog Bomberg’s career.